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Climate Change | It may not come out as climate researcher Mann goes to court to prevent UVa releasing emails
by Eric Burk
Posted 9/12/11, 07:39 pm

Former University of Virginia climate researcher Michael Mann, who helped produce the famous and highly-controversial "hockey stick" graph purporting to show dramatic increases in global temperatures in the last half-century, will go to court on Friday to try to prevent the university from releasing a host of documents and emails sought by global warming skeptics.

The American Tradition Institute and Del. Bob Marshall filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the university in January for materials relating to Mann's research. These are the same documents Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had requested in his investigation to see if Mann, who had received five state grants, had violated Virginia's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. This summer the courts ruled that Cuccinelli failed to show sufficient evidence of fraud to subpoena the documents.

The university has released about 4,000 of the requested 9,000 pages of material to ATI. The remainder is due on Sept. 21, to be reviewed by ATI lawyers who would be under a gag order concerning their contents. On Sept. 2 Mann, who now teaches at Penn State University, filed a motion to intervene in the case, on the grounds that the materials contain thousands of personal emails that are not subject to FOIA requests. Mann also argued that releasing the other documents threatened academic freedom and privacy, endangering the work of other scientists receiving government grants.

The motion will be heard in the Circuit Court of Prince William County on Sept. 16.

Mann's materials and correspondence are of interest to ATI and others in light of "Climategate." His name appeared prominently among the thousands of emails hacked from servers at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain in 2009. The messages apparently indicated that certain researchers had been manipulating and suppressing data that undermined the theory of global warming.

In a June 2010 finding, a Pennsylvania State University panel unanimously concluded, "the Investigatory committee determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly, or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scholarly activities." Another investigation by the National Science Foundation in August, 2010, also exonerated Mann.

ATI filed the FOIA request with the University of Virginia last January but according to the ATI, the university "demanded an unjustified and unsupportable sum of $8,500 from ATI to produce the documents, despite its admission that it knows precisely where the records exist on a specific University computer server."

The ATI made two payments totaling $4,000 before asking courts to force the University to expedite the release of the documents. Since then, the university has provided some, but not all of the documents, claiming certain exemptions.

Paul Chesser, Executive Director of the ATI, stated that the correspondence requested was sent using a public university email system, and thus is not private. "We asked specifically for correspondence about his research and exchanges with the other scientists." Chesser added that the ATI was not interested in any personal documents or emails.

"All we want is for the public to see the science or the research that corresponds to what they saw in Climategate, and to make their own judgments, their own evaluation, and in our internet age, have a great public debate about it," Chesser said.

Neither Mann nor the University of Virginia returned phone calls.

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